One of the main criticisms leveled at graphical
computer users—notably those trained on command-line systems—is that getting to where you want to go is made slower and more difficult by the extra effort that goes into manipulating
and icons. Users complain that, with a command line, they can just type in the desired command and the computer executes it immediately. With windowing systems, they must
various folders looking for the desired file or program before they can launch it. Then, after it appears on the screen, they must stretch and drag the window until it is in the desired location and configuration.
These complaints are well founded. Extra window manipulation
like these are, indeed, excise. They don't move the user towards his goal; they are overhead that the programs demand before they deign to assist the user. But everybody
that GUIs are easier to use than command-line systems. Who is right?
The confusion arises because the real issues are hidden. The command-line interface forces an even more expensive excise budget on the user: He must first memorize the commands. Also, he cannot easily configure his screen to his own personal requirements. The excise of the command-line interface becomes smaller only after the user has invested significant time and effort in learning it.
On the other hand, for the casual or first-time user, the visual explicitness of the GUI helps him navigate and learn what tasks are appropriate and when. The step-by-step nature of the GUI is a great help to users who aren't yet familiar with the task or the system. It also benefits those users who have more than one task to perform and who must use more than one program at a time.
Excise and expert users
Any user willing to learn a command-line interface automatically qualifies as a power user. And any power user of a command-line interface will quickly become a power user of any other type of interface, GUI included. These users will easily learn each nuance of the programs they use. They will start up each program with a clear idea of exactly what it is they want to do and how they want to do it. To this user, the assistance
to the casual or first-time user is just in the way.
We must be careful when we eliminate excise. We must not remove it just to suit power users. Similarly, however, we must not force power users to pay the full price of our providing help to new or infrequent users.
One of the areas where software designers can inadvertently introduce significant amounts of excise is in support for first-time or casual users. It is easy to justify adding facilities to a program that will make it easy for
users to learn how to use the program. Unfortunately, these facilities quickly become excise as the users become familiar with the program—
intermediates, as discussed in Chapter 3. Facilities added to software for the purpose of training beginners must be easily turned off. Training wheels are rarely needed for extended periods of time, and training wheels, although they are a boon to
, are a hindrance to advanced learning and use when they are left on permanently.
Don't weld on training wheels.
There are a number of actions that are excise of such purity that nobody needs them, from power users to first-timers. These include most hardware-management tasks that the computer could handle itself, like telling a program which COM port to use. Any demands for such information should be struck from user interfaces and
program behavior behind the scenes.
Designers sometimes paint
into excise corners by relying too heavily on visual metaphors. Visual metaphors like desktops with telephones, copy machines, staplers, and fax machines—or file
with folders in drawers—are cases in point. These visual metaphors may make it easy to understand the relationships between program elements and behaviors; but after these fundamentals are learned, the management of the metaphor becomes pure excise (for more discussion on the limitations of visual metaphors, see Chapter 19). In addition, the screen space consumed by the images becomes increasingly egregious, particularly in
applications. The more we stare at the program from day to day, the more we
the number of pixels it takes to tell us what we already know. The little telephone that so charmingly told us how to dial on that first day long ago is now a
to quick communications.
Transient posture applications can
more training and explanation excise than sovereign applications. Transient posture programs aren't used frequently, so their users need more assistance in understanding what the program does and remembering how to control it. For sovereign posture applications, however, the slightest excise becomes agonizing over time.
The second type of visual excise was not a significant issue before the
of the Web: overemphasis of visual design elements to the extent that they interfere with user goals and
. The late 90s attracted a large number of graphic and new media designers to the Web, people who
this medium as a predominantly visual one, the experience of which was defined by rich, often animated, visuals. Although this might have been (and perhaps still is) appropriate for
Web sites that serve primarily as marketing
, it is highly inappropriate for transactional Web sites and Web applications. As we will discuss more in Chapter 37, these latter types of sites, into which the majority of e-commerce
, have far more in common, from a behavioral standpoint, with sovereign desktop applications than with multimedia kiosk-ware or brochure-ware.
The result was that many visually arresting, visually innovative sites were spawned that ignored the two most critical elements: an understanding of user goals and a streamlined behavior that helped users achieve them. A pre-eminent example of this was Boo.com, one of the first major implosions of the dot.com bust. This fashion e-tailor made use of hip visuals and flash-based interactive
, but didn't seem to
much effort addressing user goals. The site was
due to flash, visually distracting, confusingly laid out, and difficult to navigate due to multiple windows and confusing links. Boo attempted to be
, but its users' goals were simply to buy products more quickly, cheaply, and easily on-line than they could elsewhere. By the time some of these problems were remedied, Boo's customers had
them. One can only
how much difference a goal-directed design might have made to Boo and many other e-commerce failures of that time.
Unfortunately, some of these visual excesses are slowly creeping into desktop applications, as programmers and designers
flashy but inappropriate idioms from the Web. We will discuss appropriate design of visual interfaces more in Chapter 19.
Determining what is excise
Sometimes we find certain tasks like window management, which, although they are
for the program, are useful for
users or users with special preferences. In this case, the function itself can only be
excise if it is forced on the user rather than made available at his discretion.
The only way to determine whether a function or behavior is excise is by comparing it to the user's goals. If the user needs to see two programs at a time on the screen in order to compare or transfer information, the ability to configure the main windows of the programs so that they share the screen space is not excise. If the user doesn't have this specific goal, a requirement that the user must configure the main window of either program is excise.